The Rise Of Obesity & Weight Problems In Ireland
Today, I’m writing about the rise of obesity in Ireland and my views on what’s the driving force behind it.
This is possibly going to run into a long one but I’ll try keep it to the point.
So before I dive into my theories on the rise of obesity, let’s look at some stats:
Obesity Statistics – Irish Health Survey 2015
- 53% of people are overweight or obese – (35% overweight and 18% obese)
- 32% have a long standing illness or health problem
- The top 2 health conditions were Lower Back Disorder (19%) and High Blood Pressure (16%).
- Only 42% eat more than the 5 a day recommendation for fruit and veg
- 49% reported to partake in sports/fitness or recreational activities
So they’re just a few of the stats on adult obesity. (Source: Irish Health Survey 2015 )
But let’s take a quick look at:
So according to www.safefood.eu, the recommended amount of physical activity for school aged children is at least 60 minutes per day.
However, in the Republic of Ireland, 4 out of 5 children are NOT meeting the recommended daily amount.
Not only that, but 34% of children have a TV in their bedroom and clock up an average of 2.2 hours of TV per day.
In 1981, 50% of schoolchildren walked to school whereas in 2014 25% walk to school, while I think that this number will drop further and further as the years pass by.
Many children do not meet the daily recommended intake of fruits and vegetables while 20% of their diets are made up of sugary drinks, chocolate, biscuits etc.
So not only is obesity and weight issues affecting adults, it’s now affecting children. And unfortunately, an overweight child is more likely to become an obese adult.
So now that we’ve had a quick look at some stats, I’m now going to spin my theory as to why we’re suffering a huge rise in Obesity and weight problems in Ireland.
The Change of Employment Contributing To Obesity
So one area that I’ve taken into consideration is the change in the type of employment we now work in.
If you look at Ireland, over the last 5-15 years we were heavily reliant on manual labour jobs.
During the boom times, there was HUGE employment in Building, Construction and all the trades that go with it.
All these lines of work involved highly active individuals from 8am to 5pm daily.
And with all activities there’s a far greater energy expenditure which leads to better calorie control.
However, since the recession really kicked in, a lot of manual labour jobs were lost which resulted in 2 avenues of employment – Emigration to continue your trade jobs or take a desk job.
And over the last 10 years, we’ve had a big shift towards tech jobs etc. which all are based around sitting at a desk for 8-9 hours a day.
So in such a short few years, we’ve gone from a highly active employment sector to a sedentary job sitting at a desk all day.
And in this, we’ve gone from requiring high levels of calories to match our energy expenditure to need far less to suit our new style of employment.
However, our food consumption has not decreased to match our job.
If anything, it has increased dramatically which leads me to:
The Explosion of Convenience Food vs. Home Cooked
The bottom line when it comes to weight gain is the excessive consumption of calories beyond ones daily requirements.
In simple terms, we’re eating far beyond what we need to simply exist.
But in the current society we are in, it’s easier than ever to overconsume calories.
Every shop is now loaded with sweets, chocolate and all the tasty treats.
And as always, they’re on “offer” so it’s so much easier to buy them.
There’s also the product placement.
Ever notice how all the bars of chocolate are at the till so when you’re queuing you’re more tempted to grab one.
They even put them at eye level for kids to get them to beg mammy to buy them.
But to get back on topic.
Every shop is loaded with processed, convenient foods that go straight into the oven or can be eaten immediately.
The days of spending hours cooking a home dinner are slowly disappearing and are being replaced by takeaway’s and “on-the-go” foods.
It’s very easy to take the “quick option” on the way home from work because, well, you’ve had a long day.
But the majority of convenient foods are calorie dense and nutrient shallow.
This leads to overeating due to lack of satiety which drives up calories.
(I don’t feel the need to address fast food as I’m sure by now you’re well aware of the health implications – however, as the odd treat it’s fine. Just not 4-5 times a week)
The Combination of Activity Levels and Food Consumption By Association
Overall, we’ve become a far less active population on a daily basis.
We spend hours every day sitting down between driving, buses, work and chilling out in the evening.
The ratio of active:inactive is far in favour of inactive.
We’ve slowly moved away from leisurely activities and getting outside in favour of Netflix with some tea and biscuits.
It’s happening without us realising it.
We’re being conditioned to being addicted to social media and technology which has now replaced getting outside and being active.
When was the last time you were on a bike?
I bought a mountain bike last summer and near fell off it first time out because I’d almost forgotten how to cycle it was that long.
But I’ll not harp on about being active for now.
Instead, let’s look at food consumption by association. Think:
- Popcorn and the cinema
- Biscuits with a cup of tea
- Saturday night takeaway and Netflix
The list can go on and on.
But we’ve conditioned ourselves to associate these foods with certain things.
But it’s not our own doing. We’ve been marketed to subconsciously to believe this.
Ever get a notion to have a Diet Coke at 11.30? (remember that ad)
Or have a kit kat on your break?
Maybe you need a Mars Bar to help you work, rest and play?
All these are marketing ploys to get you to associate a certain time/activity with their product.
The more it happens, the more chance you’ll become a customer.
But sure big companies surely don’t want us getting fat over making money? Yeah right.
Portion Sizes and Emotional Eating
Okay so I’m going to link food and Heroin in a moment to try and prove a point.
But first, Do you use food as a crutch to address emotional issues and make you feel better?
If so, then by now you may have noticed your portion sizes increase and increase over time.
What happens here is, you’re eating a certain food, say chocolate, in order to address your emotions.
You eat chocolate because of the way it makes you feel.
It tastes nice, it comforts you and it addresses the way you feel at that moment in time.
Let’s say you eat 100g of chocolate and it gives you the desired effect.
Over time though, the effect of that 100g of chocolate will start to subside which means you now need to increase your dosage to get the desired emotional effect.
You increase it to 150g and few weeks later you need more.
So you’re no longer focusing on the portion size and instead eating the quantity required to give you the pleasure you seek.
And now enter Heroin. Pretty much the same effects. Users will eventually have to keep upping the dose to get the desired pleasure from it.
Exactly what we do with food.
And it’s a big reason why over time our portion sizes increase purely to give us the sense of pleasure we seek.
So a huge area for us to address is the reason behind WHY we consume foods and why we seek that feeling of pleasure from it.
(Okay it’s not that simple. It’s about the effect the foods have on our receptors and hormones. Over time our body gets used of that dosage and it now needs more to stimulate the pleasure effect).
Children, Food and Activity Levels
As you seen above, the activity levels of children are in massive decline.
And a lot of it is down to us.
Suddenly, the world has become more “dangerous” so kids are being allowed sit indoors all day instead of out playing.
It’s actually crazy how many 2 year old I know that can use an iPad to play games.
So in turn, kids are no longer encouraged to go outside to play.
Instead, they can sit on a couch playing games on the iPad and get their dinner brought to them.
The role of technology is massive and will be the future for our kids, however, we must address what we’re conditioning them for.
If you look at my own generation, we all played sports through to Under 18’s.
We went into school early to play football, every lunch was spent playing and we couldn’t wait to get home, get changed and get out for the evening.
So as a whole, we were very active until 18 years of age.
Now look at the current generation.
If we enable a child to sit on the couch and play games from a very young age, we’ve suddenly removed 15 years of high activity levels from their lives.
This will without doubt have a huge knock on effect in later life as they’ve missed out on years of energy expending games, sports etc.
So it is perfectly fine to allow them TV time, but it should never replace being outside making friends, learning new skills and playing sports.
Kids Portion Sizes
One of the issues address by Safefood is the one of kids portion sizes being too big.
They’ve found a trend where some kids meals a replicating the size of an adult portion.
Now it can be quite an easy oversight and all parents try their best to do the right thing by their children.
So a conscious effort to ensure portion sizes don’t become too big and a greater control on sweets and sugary drinks would go a long way,
Unfortunately, as kids we were all smart at finding the “sweets press” or robbing a few cookies when Mammy wasn’t looking.
But as we gain more knowledge about nutrition, it would benefit all within the household to limit such items coming into the house and to focus on using them as a weekly treat rather than an everyday occurence.
So What Can We Do In Our Battle Against Obesity
First of all, we need to make an honest assessment of ourselves. If we are carrying a few too many extra pounds, finding it hard to do basic daily activities or are beginning to suffer from health issues, then it is vital that we start to address our current weight and lifestyle.
We can start to consume quality information when it comes to diet and health. Our aim should be to base our diet on meats, vegetables and fruits while getting adequate water. Cut back on the booze and junk food but there’s no need to completely eliminate it. Keep track of your weight and if it’s not going down then you need to look at reducing your calorie intake or getting more active. (yes the scales isn’t ideal for progress but if you are Overweight/Obese then there is a definite need to drop some pounds and improve your health).
Look at where you can become more active on a daily basis. Simply parking further away from shops/work and walking. Take up a sport or join an exercise class/gym. Maybe do more chores around the house or aim to clock up 10,000 steps on your FitBit daily. It’s not only exercising for your weight, it’s about your mental and physical health too. Getting out for a walk in the fresh air can do wonders for your mood and give you a chance to let your mind unwind.
Limit TV- Watching TV doesn’t require much brain power which can give that feeling of being bored which leads to eating biscuits to fill the void.
Look at improving your overall lifestyle by slowly removing the bad habits and replacing them with more productive, good habits.
Look at portion sizes. Without a conscious effort it is very easy to overeat (calories) due to larger portion sizes and simply not being aware of how much you were eating.
The sooner we all make a greater effort to address the above, the sooner we as a nation can reduce those statistics and become a healthier country.
Topics I didn’t cover were – Social Media Pressure, Social Media Acceptance of Eating Loads, Why We Get Conned By Products, Why Diets and Detoxes Won’t Address The Underlying Issues Driving Your Eating.
If this goes down well, I’ll spend some more time address those and any further topics that will come up.